Archives for February 2011

Review: Set free to love

In many ways, we are all on a continuing journey to learn about some of life’s most important topics. What is love? Why is sex a minefield? How do we view our body?

Sometimes parents give “the talk” to explain mechanics, risks and the need for “protection.” Some children are subjected to “sex education” classes. Often we learn the importance of chastity through our faith but fail to pursue real understanding of why.

Mostly, we learn about love and sex from the culture we live in where it is abundantly displayed, discussed – and wrong, very wrong. Heartbreak abounds through shallow relationships and failed marriages. People use, and are used, leaving only emptiness. Real love, being a real man or woman, and the enduring joy in the gift of ourselves to another as God intended eludes us.

Pope John Paul the Great understood our pain and confusion. He undertook as his special mission, before and throughout his papacy, to explore and explain every facet of this topic. Collectively, his work is known as the theology of the body.

As a non-Catholic, I had never heard of it. As near as I can tell, many Catholics have not either and that is a shame. The answers people are looking for are there. For many, it is a complete “paradigm shift.” I simply ask those in doubt – does your way work?

I first learned about this from the excellent videos of Jason Evert and his wife Crystalina. See a sample of those in my 7 Quick Takes Friday #13 if this is entirely new to you.

Marcel LeJeune, Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at Texas A&M’s St. Mary’s Catholic Center recently wrote a wonderful book entitled Set Free To Love: Lives Changed by the Theology of the Body. Marcel writes one of my favorite blogs (Aggie Catholics) and is one of the driving forces behind the incredible Catholic community there.

I like the book. After a good introduction to Theology of the Body, a dozen personal stories are presented detailing how it has changed their lives. Each story is unique and very different including not only single and married people, but same sex attraction, a priest and a sister.

Friends, this is an inexpensive paperback book. Being introduced to (or deepening your understanding of) the theology of the body is priceless. I recommended this captivating and inspiring book.

Are you ready?

Some science fiction is anti-Christian, but a lot is not. I find it intriguing to consider the story lines in the context of our faith. What would this or that mean if they were true? Father Gabriel Funes, the Pope’s chief astronomer, holds that extraterrestrial life is not incompatible with our beliefs. I think it would certainly expand our framework of understanding, to say the least.

Similarly, there are differing views in Christian communities of the “rapture.” A few years ago a movie called Left Behind, based on a series of novels, presented one. In it, the rapture occurs and those who accepted Jesus (and those too young) simply disappeared to be with Him. Those who were not taken…

I found the movie to be quite thought provoking! Some people, who others may not expect to be taken, were. Some people who many might assume would be taken, such as forthright religious leaders, were not. It reminds me of this scripture:

“Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Imagine a different plot line. Instead of an end times scenario where the dispositions are black and white, something more granular. What if, the vision of all people suddenly became attenuated by their faith?

Some people who were blind might suddenly have 20/20 vision. Some with perfectly fine vision, but who deny Christ, become blind. Many of us would probably fall somewhere in between.

If nothing else, it would be insightful (no pun intended). I imagine my vision would be relatively good after Mass or adoration, for example. Unhappily, I can think of other times when it would be impaired to varying degrees. The goal is to have perfect vision (i.e. to be perfect) as Jesus directed us “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48.

This might not make a blockbuster Hollywood movie. For that matter, the analogy of faith and sight is not even original:

On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.

[…]

So Ananias went and entered the house; laying his hands on him, he said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the holy Spirit.” Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight.

As interesting as it may be to ponder the rapture or to consider science fiction stories, we would be missing the big picture. People have been waiting for the rapture for 2,000 years and may be waiting for another 2,000 — or 10,000. The possibility of these science fiction scenarios during our mortal lives is even more remote.

What is not remote and quite sure is an end to our individual exiles here on earth. We do not know when, but we know its certainty. Some have a “no rush, take your time” attitude. Not recommended.

Are you ready? Right now, this minute?

Elsewhere: A catholic president?

February 6th was the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth. Dr. Paul Kengor noted recently in Catholic Exchange Reagan’s very tight association with numerous Catholics. The piece got me to thinking.

Who was the most “catholic” (small-c) president – Reagan or JFK (of course, JFK was big-C Catholic, Reagan was not). If you look at what they did and the long term effect of those actions, I think an excellent case can be made for Reagan. Dr. Kengor’s article covers a number of very good points.

JFK on the other hand, most notably entrenched the conceptual (not constitutional) “doctrine” of separation of church and state. He asserted strongly that his faith was private and would not effect his decisions as president. Over time this has influenced many politicians (including those who profess to be Catholic) and the courts to do their best to remove any overt Christian influence in government. This is not what the founding fathers had in mind, as I had written about last March. That unfortunately, is JFK’s lasting legacy.

Reagan lived his Christian faith and wasn’t shy about it. He surrounded himself with like-minded advisors including many Catholics. His faith played a prominent part of his decision making. Reagan changed the world for the better.

Perhaps things would be different if JFK had the chance to complete his presidency. If the current crop of Democratic Catholic politicians are any indicator, then probably not.

It isn’t surprising that Reagan’s centennial is being marked by all sorts of organizations, with retrospectives that will touch upon every imaginable aspect of Reagan. I suspect, however, that the thing most integral to the man, and most consistent throughout his life – that is, his religious faith – will not be as front and center as it should.

A fascinating aspect of that faith was a Reagan warmly, remarkably ecumenical, especially toward Catholics. Reagan included several devout Catholics among his top foreign-policy advisers and intimates, from CIA director Bill Casey, to Ambassador Vernon Walters, to National Security Adviser Richard Allen, to Secretary of State Al Haig (whose brother was a Jesuit priest), just for starters.

Most significant among them was Bill Clark, also known as “The Judge.” A student of Aquinas, Fulton Sheen, and Thomas Merton, who spent time in an Augustinian novitiate contemplating the priesthood, Clark implemented the formal National Security Decision Directives crucial to confronting and undermining the Soviet empire. Clark and Reagan prayed together, particularly the Prayer of Saint Francis.

And then there were the Catholic speechwriters to “the Great Communicator:” Peggy Noonan, chief speechwriter Tony Dolan, and Peter Robinson, who wrote the “Tear Down This Wall” speech.

Finally, Reagan spent some very special moments with the likes of Mother Teresa, Terence Cardinal Cooke, and, of course, Pope John Paul II, with whom he took down an Evil Empire – peacefully.

The centennial of Ronald Reagan’s birth will generate all kinds of thoughts and reflections on the man, from his position on taxes to the Soviets to unborn human life. The 40th president’s close relationship with Catholics is likewise worthy of reflection.

Dr. Kengor has written extensively on this topic in his book God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life.

Reform the reform (part 2)

Pope Benedict XVI

Last week, I reflected on post-Vatican II changes on the liturgy. In particular, I looked at the revival of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin and the official support for it.

This week I will conclude this topic, covering some of my personal hopes and reasoning. It is my wish list for the “reform of the reform” – to correct excesses presumably done in the “spirit” of Vatican II. In short, my hopes are for increased reverence which is rightly due the sacred liturgy and for the renewal and strengthening that will accompany it.

I consider it my duty, therefore to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity. These norms are a concrete expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is their deepest meaning. Liturgy is never anyone’s private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated. The Apostle Paul had to address fiery words to the community of Corinth because of grave shortcomings in their celebration of the Eucharist resulting in divisions (schismata) and the emergence of factions (haireseis) (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34). Our time, too, calls for a renewed awareness and appreciation of liturgical norms as a reflection of, and a witness to, the one universal Church made present in every celebration of the Eucharist. Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church. Precisely to bring out more clearly this deeper meaning of liturgical norms, I have asked the competent offices of the Roman Curia to prepare a more specific document, including prescriptions of a juridical nature, on this very important subject. No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality.

Ecclesia de Eucharistia 52
Pope John Paul II

With that in mind, my first hope is that all priests would faithfully follow the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. The GIRM is not a list of “best practices” – it must be strictly followed as written. There are places where the presider may say things in his own words. The GIRM is very clear where that is allowed. Other parts must be presented precisely as described with exactly the words provided. This is very important (see Sacrosanctum Concilium #22, Canon 928, Inaestimabile Donum #5). It is also important that the priest never forget that the Mass is not about him, but solely about Christ.

I am not referring to mistakes and oversights that are completely understandable by our over-worked priests. We are blessed by their dedication and long hours that make occasional errors a reality of their humanity. I am referring to purposeful, intentional changes.

On a related point, use of inclusive language (e.g. “man” changed to “person”) is a serious liturgical abuse. No bishop, priest, deacon or lay reader has the authority to change any text of the Mass to suit what they personally feel it should have said.

It would undoubtedly be controversial, but a lot would be gained in changing from versus populum to ad orientem (from “towards the people” to “the east”). That is, the sacrifice of Mass with everyone – including the priest – facing God. It is something of a mystery why priests currently face the congregation. The GIRM itself implies otherwise. Some priests are making this change (really, a correction). I wrote about one’s experience previously. No doubt, some would decry this as “undoing Vatican II” so catechesis would be needed. Maybe some heavy narcotics too.

Mass is not a performance but a connection to the Last Supper and Calvary. It is exceedingly inappropriate for applause during Mass.

Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.

The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 198
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

There are a number of areas in the distribution of the Holy Eucharist that could be improved. It is not uncommon, for instance, for an army of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC) to be used. This is done because it saves time and many people like serving in this ministry. It is also directly contrary to the conditions specified in Redemptionis Sacramentum 154-160 and Ecclesia de Mysterio article 8 for their use. Ideally the faithful would receive the Eucharist only from the priest or deacon – at least far more often. Speed of distribution is not of paramount importance.

In the United States, we have been dispensed to ALLOW communion in the hand and have somehow effectively made (although did not and could not formally make) it the norm. The universal norm in the Latin rite is communion on the tongue. There is much more abuse resulting from in the hand and it is less reverent. Priests and EMHC are forbidden from denying communion to anyone wishing to receive on the tongue. Fr. John Hardon observed “Whatever you can do to stop communion in the hand will be blessed by God.”

Kneeling to receive is similar although slightly different. The USCCB (per Eucharisticum Mysterium) has chosen standing as our norm. However, any communicant remains free to receive kneeling per the universal norm (see Protocol No. 47/03/L which explicitly overrides any USCCB claims of kneeling as illicit in the US). As much as a priest or EMHC might be annoyed, they are forbidden from denying communion to anyone who wishes to follow the universal norm. When I was growing-up in my Protestant church, we had communion rails and received kneeling there. I would be thrilled if this came back in the Catholic Church.

In most US dioceses, those not receiving communion are invited to approach for a blessing. This is misguided in a number of ways, contrary to canon law and instructions from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (see Protocol No. 930/08/L, November 22, 2008).

One of the prerogatives of the diocesan bishop is deciding if female altar servers will be allowed. Even if they are, priests can not be compelled to use them. As the father of a daughter, I have to admit that this is a topic I have mixed views on. When I consider only what is best for the Church however, I conclude that it should be male only. This is a function which uniquely gives boys closer exposure to the priesthood as a vocation. For some it will be the seed that later leads them to discern it for themselves. When boys and girls are mixed the dynamics change. The experience of some parishes shows that participation of boys drops when girls also serve.

On the topic of Mass and the Liturgy, here are some of my miscellaneous wish list items:

  • more homilies should include at least a brief portion on our beliefs
  • sanctus bells at every Mass and incense on all solemnities would be great
  • altars should never be lower than most of the congregation
  • the tabernacle should always be close to the altar (many churches I have visited have it elsewhere necessitating “find the tabernacle” confusion when genuflecting not to mention a lack of prominence)
  • choirs should be in lofts where available so that they do not become the focus
  • no more orans posture, at least no attempt to require it
  • be sure everyone understands that Mass is not for socializing!
  • since 2002 (GIRM 146), we are all to stand after the Orate, fratres (“Pray, brethren…”) before responding “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands…”; I don’t think everyone got the memo

Finally (whew! this is turning out to be much longer than I thought it would) some general hopes:

  • fasting for only 1 hour before receiving the Holy Eucharist is almost the same as not fasting at all – this should be more of a real fast as it once was
  • the Sunday obligation should be met on Sunday; Saturday vigil, while meeting the obligation, is just not the same
  • holy days of obligation should not be dispensed simply because they fall on a Saturday or Monday
  • Friday abstinence should be clearly restored where it is in doubt
  • there should be much more adult catechesis – offered and aggressively promoted
  • the scandal caused by high profile individuals receiving communion when in open opposition to Church teaching should be addressed
  • the scandal caused by Catholic intuitions (hospitals, universities, religious orders) in open opposition to Church teaching and the episcopate should be addressed

The bottom line is not that the liturgy of the Mass and other practices is wrong, broken or less sacred. It is that post-Vatican II “spirit” changes made in haste and/or with questionable authority should be reversed to restore greatest reverence. That is the point of reforming the reform.


7 Quick Takes Friday (set #23)

This week: Planned Parenthood support for the sex trade is not an isolated problem. Philadelphia’s Dr. Gosnell’s actions are in-line with president’s stated position. How abortions affect women – a video. World Youth Days 2011. Why I’m Catholic is launched. Google Goggles solves Sudoku.

— 1 —

OK, say you are a pimp in the sex trade. Naturally you think of Planned Parenthood as your ally. Yea, I covered this in a previous quick takes but surely that was an aberration, right? Sadly no, this is the third such video taken at different PP termination centers around the country. As much as their defenders try to say it was not “company policy,” it is indeed their very nature:

Friends, this is not a management failure. This is what moral depravity looks like. In an environment that celebrates the murder of unborn children, what do you expect?

— 2 —

Inside Catholic has a piece from Deal Hudson noting how the grisly actions of Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia were squarely in-line with the stated position of Barack Obama. He isn’t known as the most pro-abortion president for no reason. Read the story.

— 3 —

The Manhattan Declaration folks ran a pro-life video contest. The top 3 winners have been selected. Of those, my favorite is this one told by women who have had abortions:

(This video is no longer available.)

— 4 —

This “promo” for World Youth Days is inspiring:

Thanks Marcel for finding it. You are a source of so much great material!

— 5 —

Why I’m Catholic is a new website that features high-quality presentations of Catholic conversion stories. Last week they featured mine! Be sure to check them out.

— 6 —

Now, something totally different. Google has been busily improving their Google Goggles mobile service that performs a search by simply taking a picture. The latest version, among other things, solves Sudoku puzzles:

— 7 —

Elizabeth Esther kindly hosts a feature she calls The Saturday Evening Blog Post. Published monthly every first Saturday, it features the best post in the preceding month on each of a few dozen Christian blogs. The “best” entries are chosen by the authors themselves (so they should know!).

It is a great way to discover new blogs. Be sure to check-it out. Last month entries were solicited for December and January. My entries were Some leave the Church and Who are we?.


Some random thoughts or bits of information are worthy of sharing but don’t warrant their own full post. This idea was started by Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary to address this blogging need. So, some Fridays I too participate when I have accumulated 7 worthy items. Thank you Jen for hosting this project!

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